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All is vanity | by Fray Bentos
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All is vanity

I've never quite known what "Northern Soul" was. My sister was keen on "Soul" (also on Ska and Bluebeat, the prototypes of Reggae), but I don't know whether I could have defined what Soul was or recognised it when I heard it. I slept in the front room downstairs and remember her Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding records pounding through the ceiling (also Try to Remember by Pat Kelly and Wet Dream by Max Romeo) and I actually bought Sweet Soul Music by Arthur Conley. In the end I preferred the B-side, Let's Go Steady, but the record seems to have disappeared from what remains of my collection. If it was sung by a black artiste but wasn't blues or Motown, then it seemed to be Soul ...that was about as far as my thinking took me.

But Northern Soul? I dunno. It was well after my time, but I got the impression it was one of those genres ("jon-rahs") of teenage music that could be promoted by record company marketing men as being a cut above mere pop music; you had to be a bit more "intellectual" than all those pitiable teeny-boppers to know about it and understand it. You belonged to an elect, more open-minded and cosmopolitan in outlook, more esoteric in taste, than those of your less discerning contemporaries who were simply dupes of the music business. This is basically how any "niche" market operates ...by flattering the aficionado that he is above the uninformed tastes of the too-many. I'm not trying to give myself airs, you understand ...in my day I was pie-hot on "progressive" and "underground" music, and even tried to convince myself that I liked Jazz ...but I grew out of it. So anyway, here is Spalding's throbbing Northern Soul venue. It helps, of course, that it is down an alley. This flatters the attendee that he has sought out something removed from the mainstream, not revealed to "the others". If the performances take place downstairs in some cramped and ill-lighted cellar, so much the better. In twenty years' time fans will be able to give a highly mythologised account to researchers gathering material for a television documentary about the "scene".

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Uploaded on December 6, 2016